JOHANNESBURG – One would be forgiven for overlooking the actual start of the domestic season on Wednesday such was the flood of news from Cricket SA about its new broadcast deal for its T20 competition and the national coach needing to prepare his players for the first international engagement of the season.
But there it was, in not so much glory, the start of the local cricket season with the Dolphins winning the toss and choosing to bat first against the defending champions the Titans.
The hosts won the competition on the last day of the 2017/18 season, when it still had a sponsor, but CSA for all manner of reasons - not least of which is the country’s struggling economy - have battled to secure naming rights for the premier first class competition in South Africa, which now goes by banal title of ‘4-Day Domestic Series.’
It may yet get a sponsor, but for the first day of the season, the logos on the players’ shirts remain sponsorless.
The weather however was good and the cricket hard and uncompromising as Titans coach Mark Boucher had predicted on Tuesday. The visitors missing some important cogs in their batting line-up, got the better of the early exchanges thanks to a first wicket stand of 52 between the youthful opening pair Grant Roelofson and Jason Oakes.
The hard work they put in was undermined somewhat by most of the Dolphins middle order who crumbled in the face of disciplined bowling from the home team led by Alfred Mothoa’s maiden franchise ‘five-fer.’ The at times awkward looking right arm seamer, landed sufficient balls in areas to cause the batsmen difficulties and finished with 5/55 in 18 overs.
Chris Morris is a player very much under the microscope in the early weeks of the season and from his own personal perspective as well as the national team outlook, the work he put in on Wednesday was pleasing. His 15 overs were split into four spells, with his pace up and for the most part his control accurate. He claimed two wickets.
Ottis Gibson said earlier on Wednesday that for Morris it was important to get as much cricket as possible under his belt, so that he could push his case for a spot in the national side again, particularly with the World Cup in mind.
“My problem for Morris; there is a bit of a cricket problem, but the bigger problem is fitness,” said Gibson. “Not in terms of general fitness but in terms of staying on the park. Morris in the last three years has had a lot of injury issues not cricket issues, and once he is fit and strong then his real talent will come to the fore, which is the message I have given him already.”
There was little Morris or any other Titans bowler could do about Sibonelo Makhanya and Keshav Maharaj’s eighth wicket partnership of 90, which dragged the visitors back into the match.
They duo rode their luck with edges flying into gaps and the ball dropping short of fielders, but they will see it as reward for their adventure.
Makhanya too showed there was more to his game than just occasional flashes of brilliance as he fought what appeared to be a stomach ailment just after lunch - which saw him throw up next to the boundary - to spend more than three half hours at the crease to score 86 (156b, 10x4, 2x6).
In total the last three Dolphins wickets added 126 runs, which in the context of the game may yet prove important.
Maharaj picked up the wicket of Titans opener Tony di Zorzi with his first ball to make the Dolphins feel good about themselves at the end of the opening day of what will be another long season.